The Florida Bar was expected to open a file and initiate an investigation when a federal judge accused Broward lawyer Peter Ticktin of misconduct.
But that did not happen. Ticktin confirmed to Florida Bulldog that the Bar disregarded the judge’s strong plea for accountability.
It has been 14 months since Ticktin, former president Donald Trump, and New Jersey-based lawyer Alina Habba were sanctioned by West Palm Beach U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks. Habba gained recognition for her defense of Trump in the E. Jean Carroll New York defamation trial, which recently concluded with an $83.3 million jury award against Trump.
The judge issued fines exceeding $1 million against Trump and his lawyers Ticktin and Habba for misusing a federal lawsuit to revive his fantasies about Hillary Clinton and her “deep state” co-conspirators. Currently, the case is awaiting a decision in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta.
In November 2022, Middlebrooks expressed his pessimism regarding the effectiveness of a rule alone in curbing this abusive behavior. He highlighted that lawyers are enabling this behavior, as evidenced by his decision to dismiss Trump’s complaint, which was filled with rambling and grievances.
He mentioned that there may be certain aspects that are outside the jurisdiction of the judiciary and should be addressed by the Bar and disciplinary authorities. He also suggested that additional sanctions might be necessary.
Middlebrooks noticed a clear violation of the federal court rule that prohibits fact-free and “performative” political lawsuits. Furthermore, the Florida Bar can refer to its own guideline which states that lawyers should not initiate or defend a legal proceeding unless there is a legitimate legal and factual basis for doing so, and it is not frivolous.
In a twist of irony, a new professional oversight rule implemented in December 2021 grants Florida judges increased influence over attorney discipline cases they initiate. Should a judge’s complaint against a lawyer be rejected by a Florida Bar grievance committee, the Florida Bar Board of Governors now has the authority to intervene and reexamine the complaint.
‘A DEVASTATING REBUKE’
The described situation can only be described as a devastating rebuke.
Ken White, a Los Angeles criminal defense and First Amendment lawyer, described Middlebrooks’ sanction order as a “devastating rebuke” of Ticktin.
According to White, host of “Make No Law: The First Amendment Podcast,” the call-out to the state Bar is a forceful one.
Ticktin, a resident of Deerfield Beach, made a surprising admission last week regarding the Florida Bar’s investigation into him. He revealed that the Bar has not conducted any investigation into his actions, thus highlighting the potential limitations of public records rules that enable the Bar to keep such information concealed.
According to Ticktin, Middlebrooks’ ruling should not be criticized. Ticktin believes that Middlebrooks, whom he describes as a good and honest judge, made his decision based on different information or a different understanding of the facts.
According to Ticktin, the decision was driven by political factors. He clarifies that he is not suggesting that the judge is politically biased. However, he points out that in today’s climate, there are two distinct groups of people: those who rely on mainstream media for information and those who turn to alternative news sources. The latter tend to place more trust in the information they find in these alternative sources.
Ticktin: It’s All Politics
The statement made by Ticktin emphasizes that politics plays a significant role in various aspects of our lives.
According to Ticktin, Judge Middlebrooks, being influenced by his background, tends to have a political perspective that aligns with one side or the other. In this case, he closely follows the media. Ticktin stated, “He didn’t believe Hillary Clinton could have possibly done the things that she did.”
According to the speaker, the creation of the Steele dossier was not a self-generated task. The source of the funding for this dossier is known, although it may not be widely discussed in the news outlets that Judge Middlebrooks follows.
Ticktin mentioned the Steele dossier, which is a report that has been partially discredited. This report focused on the alleged collusion between Trump’s team and the Russian government during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Multiple media reports have revealed that the funding for the research on the Steele dossier originated from Republicans initially and later from Democrats. The individual responsible for its creation is Christopher Steele, an expert in counterintelligence.
It is widely believed among supporters of President Trump that the Clinton campaign funded and manipulated the Steele dossier in order to tarnish Trump’s reputation, despite the fact that the investigation conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller confirmed Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
According to Ticktin, it comes as no surprise that the Florida Bar dismissed Judge Middlebrooks’s referral. He believes that the matter at hand is best addressed by the 11th Circuit and doesn’t require further resolution from anyone else.
The Bar: What Referral?
The concept of a referral is not a new one in the business world. It has been a widely used marketing strategy for decades. However, in recent years, the power of referrals has gained even more prominence as businesses recognize the value of word-of-mouth marketing.
Referrals are essentially recommendations from satisfied customers or clients who have had a positive experience with a particular product or service. These recommendations can come in various forms, including personal conversations, online reviews, or social media posts. Regardless of the format, referrals carry a significant amount of weight as they are seen as trustworthy endorsements from individuals who have firsthand knowledge of the product or service.
The bar industry is no exception when it comes to the power of referrals. In fact, referrals can be a game-changer for bars looking to attract new customers and build a loyal clientele. A positive referral can bring in new patrons who are more likely to trust the recommendation of a friend or family member than traditional forms of advertising.
One of the reasons referrals are so effective for bars is because they tap into the social nature of the industry. People often go to bars to socialize and have a good time with friends or colleagues. When someone has a great experience at a bar, they are more likely to share that experience with others and encourage them to visit as well.
Additionally, referrals can help bars stand out in a crowded market. With so many options available to consumers, it can be challenging for bars to differentiate themselves and attract new customers. However, a positive referral can help a bar rise above the competition and become the go-to spot for a night out.
To harness the power of referrals, bars should focus on providing exceptional customer experiences. This means creating a welcoming atmosphere, offering high-quality products and services, and ensuring that staff are knowledgeable and attentive. When customers have a memorable and positive experience at a bar, they are more likely to recommend it to others.
In conclusion, referrals can be a valuable tool for bars looking to grow their customer base and build a strong reputation. By providing exceptional experiences and encouraging customers to share their positive experiences, bars can leverage the power of word-of-mouth marketing and attract new patrons. So, the next time you enjoy a great night out at your favorite bar, don’t forget to spread the word and make a referral.
The 11th Circuit, however, does not have any involvement in the discipline of Florida lawyers. This responsibility falls solely on the self-regulated Florida Bar, which operates under the supervision of its internal Board of Governors. Ultimately, the Bar is accountable to the Florida Supreme Court.
Attorneys can face a range of disciplinary actions, from receiving a reprimand to being permanently disbarred. When complaints are received, they are carefully reviewed by bar counsel and grievance committees. Legitimate complaints are thoroughly investigated, and if charges are warranted, they are brought before a referee for trial. The findings and recommendations are then submitted to the Supreme Court, which serves as the ultimate authority in determining disciplinary actions.
Ticktin is well acquainted with the procedure. He has encountered three documented incidents with the Florida Bar, although these cases are not included in his disciplinary record spanning the past decade. On two occasions, the Supreme Court mandated a temporary suspension of his practice. In 2009, they determined that he had displayed “poor professional judgment” and engaged in “misconduct… unbecoming of a member of the Florida Bar.”
Scott Westheimer, the President of the Florida Bar, did not respond to emails from Florida Bulldog when asked for comment.
In response to Florida Bulldog, Bar spokesperson Jennifer Krell Davis provided a two-part response via email.
There is doubt surrounding whether Judge Middlebrooks actually made a referral, as his office failed to send the Bar the sanction order that garnered significant media attention. Davis claims that if a referral had been made, there would be an official record of it, but none exists.
According to her, determining whether the Bar has initiated or concluded an investigation into Ticktin is difficult because of gaps in public records laws, including a retention schedule that essentially functions as a document destruction tool.
According to the previous retention schedule, any written communication about the process would disappear a year later, on or before January 1, 2024, if a complaint against Ticktin was screened by Bar staff and found wanting before January 1, 2023. A public records request was submitted by Florida Bulldog on January 17.
If a Ticktin complaint manages to pass initial screenings and triggers an investigation, it could either be an ongoing process or it may have come to a halt. Due to bar rules, the public is not allowed to access a complaint unless it leads to one or multiple charges.
Ticktin claims that there has been no investigation. It is surprising that he still doesn’t have this information.
UHLFELDER’S COVID RESPONSE
Daniel Uhlfelder, a real-estate lawyer with a clean record, finds himself in stark contrast to Ticktin as the Bar appears determined to punish him. Uhlfelder had taken a stand against Gov. Ron DeSantis’s open-beaches policy during the initial stages of the pandemic.
A resident of Santa Rosa Beach in the Panhandle, by the name of Uhlfelder, passionately advocated for Covid restrictions while assuming the persona of “The Grim Reaper.” With conviction, he made his way across public beaches, donning a hooded black robe and wielding a scythe.
His appearances garnered national attention and, unfortunately, some scorn. However, Uhlfelder took his harmless goofball image a step further by filing a lawsuit against DeSantis in an effort to bring about changes to his Covid policies.
Uhlfelder demonstrated his commitment to his cause by taking action in various ways. For instance, he established a Political Action Committee (PAC) with the aim of opposing DeSantis in the 2022 elections. Additionally, he took part in the Democratic primary race for Attorney General. Although he faced defeat in August 2022 against Aramis Ayala, he remained undeterred. Later on, Ashley Moody secured reelection three months after the primary.
In February 2021, after earning the respect of a Tallahassee trial judge, Uhlfelder experienced a setback when he faced a beatdown in the 1st District Court of Appeal. It has been three years since then, and he continues to fight for his livelihood with no resolution in sight.
Judges Criticize “Frivolous” Case
Leon County Circuit Judge Kevin Carroll approved DeSantis’s request to dismiss Uhlfelder’s lawsuit based on the judge’s belief that every governor should have unrestricted autonomy to address public health concerns.
According to the judge, Uhlfelder’s concerns over the Covid crisis are valid, and he has pursued this matter sincerely. The judge acknowledged that Uhlfelder’s pursuit for an appropriate response to the crisis is understandable and commendable. It is worth noting that Judge Carroll unfortunately passed away due to a sudden heart attack on March 15, 2023.
In the appeal, a panel of three judges from the 1st District Court of Appeals completely disregarded Uhlfelder’s noble mission. The panel fiercely criticized him, displaying a level of intensity typically reserved for hardened criminals who show no remorse.
Judges Bradford Thomas, Adam Tanenbaum, and Susan Kelsey were determined to hold Uhlfelder in contempt for disturbing them. They demanded an explanation from him as to why he should not be penalized for filing what seemed to be frivolous and/or bad faith appeals, including the initial brief and the request for oral argument.
The panel denied the reinstatement of his lawsuit and directed Uhlfelder and his lawyers to undergo the Bar disciplinary process.
The panel’s ruling on February 5, 2021, stated that the appellant and his counsel, as officers of the state’s courts, were aware or should have been aware that their demands for the Governor to close the beaches were not properly asserted in the trial court or on appeal.
The court ruling criticized the appellant and his counsel for using the court as a platform to perform their own version of political theater. The ruling deemed this behavior unprofessional and an abuse of the judicial process.
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The judges didn’t stop there. In a surprising move, they went on to order the State Attorney for Walton County, where Uhlfelder resides, to press charges against him for criminal contempt. This offense carries potential penalties of a fine or even a jail sentence.
The 1st DCA case remained open to allow for easy monitoring of the progress in the Walton County prosecution. However, there has been no significant progress thus far.
The Pensacola State Attorney’s Office has been diligently filing monthly status reports to the appellate court, with the latest report being Number 35 as of Jan. 3. In the previous report, Number 34, dated Dec. 4, 2023, important updates regarding the highly anticipated Uhlfelder disciplinary action were provided.
According to the report, on October 6, 2023, a Florida Bar grievance committee determined that there was enough evidence to proceed with disciplinary action against him. The committee found that he had violated several rules, including misconduct and minor misconduct, lack of candor towards the tribunal, engaging in dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation, and engaging in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice.
The Uhlfelder Bar complaint, which is currently under review by the Supreme Court, suggests that all the rules he is accused of breaking are connected to the issue of whether he adequately notified the 1st DCA about the withdrawal of the lawyers who had previously worked with him in the trial court before he filed the appeal.
In a pointed statement, Uhlfelder expressed his belief that the actions taken against him were politically motivated. He acknowledged that some individuals may feel the need to distance themselves from him, and he respects their decision if it brings them a sense of reassurance. The complaint outlines that the lawyers, William Kitchen and Marie Mattox, were also reported to Bar overseers by the 1st DCA along with Uhlfelder.
In a charging notice dated October 6, Bar counsel Olivia Paiva Klein advised Uhlfelder to review the procedures for admission of minor misconduct and conditional guilty pleas. The notice is informative and highlights the recommended actions for Uhlfelder to take.
Uhlfelder’s case is making progress as Supreme Court Chief Justice Carlos Muniz has appointed Chief Judge Melissa Olin of the 3rd Judicial Circuit in Lake City to select a referee.
Unless Uhlfelder agrees to the plea deal for minor misconduct that the Bar is offering, the referee will proceed with a hearing. This means that the disciplinary process will continue moving forward.